With one more game before the NHL’s Olympic break begins and the Capitals depart for Sochi or vacation spots, Coach Adam Oates needs one more day of their focus. He talks constantly about players being professional – whether a player is facing a slump, has asked to be traded or, as is the case Saturday, as they play in a cauldron of distraction.
“It’s going to be hard,” Oates said of trying to reel his team’s attention in for this matchup against the Devils. New Jersey “played last night and they traveled so they probably just had a meeting got back in their beds so they’ll probably – it will be easy for them to be focused. We’ll talk about it again tonight and I think once we get in the warmup and the crowd obviously will help. Guys will get into it and get into the game but we have to have a good start — we have lately — and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that.”
The Capitals enter their game against New Jersey three points out of a playoff spot, so no matter the result they will spend the Olympic break outside of the Eastern Conference’s postseason picture. But the points are particularly valuable against the Devils, who are also tied with 61 points but sit one spot ahead of Washington thanks to having more regulation and overtime wins. (New Jersey has 24 to the Capitals’ 18.)
Washington also hasn’t won a game against a Metropolitan foe since Dec. 27, going 0-6-1 in divisional games since then. The last time they lost eight straight divisional games was in 1978.
Oates didn’t remind the players of the Metropolitan drought this morning, though, choosing instead to prioritize their preparedness for this final contest before the break.
“I think everybody knows the points are important,” Oates said. “I was more worried about, actually, them thinking about tomorrow than I was about the division. Hopefully they know.”
>> Braden Holtby earned the chance to send the Capitals into the break on a positive note after his 34 saves in a win over Winnipeg on Thursday. Holtby will make his second consecutive start and take on the Devils. Cory Schneider, who made 30 of 31 saves in New Jersey’s 2-1 win over the Capitals back on Jan. 24, will start for the Devils.
>> The Capitals will stick with the same lineup they used against Winnipeg. Mikhail Grabovski (sprained left ankle) and Mike Green (concussion) both skated but neither will face New Jersey. Defenseman John Erskine did not skate today and isn’t injured so much as needs to get stronger, Oates said.
“He’s been fighting an uphill battle all year long, he played a lot of games in a row, taking a lot of pounding if anything it affects the foot speed and he’s not a guy that can not have perfect foot speed. So we’ve got to take a step back, let him get some maintenance days in and then we’ve got the break. I hope he’s going on all cylinders off break. “
Dainius Zubrus-Andrei Loktionov-Jaromir Jagr
Patrik Elias-Travis Zajac-Damien Brunner
Ryane Clowe-Adam Henrique-Michael Ryder
Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier
Andy Greene-Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador-Marek Zidlicky
Jon Merrill-Peter Harrold
Corey Schneider is expected to start. Martin Brodeur will back up.